Neighborhoods in two Bedouin towns locked down as virus case tally tops 20,000

Data shows slight slowdown in infection rate as prime minister says rollback of virus restrictions to be frozen until spread of disease brought back under control

An Israeli medical worker tests samples of suspected Covid-19 cases in Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
An Israeli medical worker tests samples of suspected Covid-19 cases in Tel Aviv on June 9, 2020. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Government ministers voted to place parts of two southern Bedouin towns under partial lockdown Thursday as Israel’s coronavirus caseload continued to mount, passing 20,000 infections since the start of the pandemic in February.

The week-long lockdowns of two neighborhoods in Rahat and one in Arara (Negev) appeared to be the first such orders given since Israel began to gradually pull back restrictions in early May, and forebode a return to limitations on movement as infection rates have appeared to skyrocket to nearly 300 daily confirmed cases in recent days.

Health Ministry data showed a slight slowdown in new infections for Thursday, but the tally still reached 20,036, with 4,201 currently active patients.

There are 38 seriously ill patients, 28 of them on ventilators. Meanwhile, 42 patients are in moderate condition, the Health Ministry said.

Both Rahat and Arara, two of the largest Bedouin cities in the northern Negev, have seen a rise in the number of cases in recent days. Ministers decided not to impose a lockdown on neighborhoods in Jaffa that have also seen climbing infection numbers.

From 8 a.m Friday morning, residents under lockdown in Arara and Rahat will be limited to their homes, only allowed to leave to travel to work within their respective cities.

A view of the Beduin city of Rahat in southern Israel, April 8, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

In a statement, the Health Ministry said increased information of social distancing guidelines, informational campaigns and efforts to quarantine sick individuals had proven insufficient in the neighborhoods.

In Jaffa, which has seen a relative drop in recent days after an initial spike in cases, schools will be closed and gatherings limited to 10 people in the Ajama, Tsahala and Shikunei Hisachon neighborhoods.

Tel Aviv-Jaffa has seen some of the highest infection numbers during the second wave of the virus as case numbers have steadily climbed since the start of the month.

Medical staff at the coronavirus unit in Ichilov hospital, Tel Aviv, May 4, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel began in May to roll back the lockdown measures enacted in mid-March, which curbed the initial outbreak but also brought the economy to an almost total standstill. The government has repeatedly warned the public to continue to adhere to social distancing and hygiene orders amid concerns that a slacking of attitudes is allowing the spread of the virus to pick up pace anew.

Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said there won’t be any further easing of coronavirus restrictions until the recent spike in infections is flattened, and warned that the government will resort to reapplying lockdowns to achieve that goal.

“There is no doubt that we need to stop the disease,” Netanyahu said at a ceremony to install the new director general at the Health Ministry. “The disease is coming back and we have, for the time being, finished with opening up more of the economy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a ceremony welcoming the new Health Ministry director general, in Jerusalem on June 18, 2020 (Health Ministry)

“There is no substitute for changing the public’s habits,” he added. “If that doesn’t happen, we will be forced to take more aggressive measures,” he said.

The comments came a day after ministers approved the resumption of train operations next week and the limited reopening of cultural venues, which could be permitted to open as soon as the weekend.

Trains and cultural events are among the last major aspects of local daily life that have remained closed as the lockdown has lifted.

Trains have been halted for three months and the date for resuming service has been postponed several times. They are now set to begin running again on Monday.

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